Two Muslim mothers in Sweden on Wednesday lost a discrimination case against an indoor swimming pool where the lifeguards had asked them to remove their veils and body-covering clothing.
The Gothenburg court ruled the municipal pool had not discriminated against the women. It ordered the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination, which had brought the case on their behalf, to pay the City of Gothenburg’s costs of 30,850 kronor (4,375 dollars, 3,330 euros).
The women, Houda Morabet and Hayal Eroglu, were at the pool separately on two different occasions in April 2004, accompanying their young children but not to swim themselves. Both were wearing veils, long pants and long-sleeved tee-shirts because their religion does not allow them to reveal parts of their body in public.
The ombudsman argued in court that the lifeguards’ insistence that they change into tee-shirts was an act of discrimination.
The lifeguards testified that although there was nothing in the security regulations about veils, the rules did require people in the pool area to wear shorts and tee-shirts, even if they don’t plan to swim. The mothers’ cumbersome clothing would have prevented them from coming to the rescue of their children if necessary, they argued. Signs were posted in the pool area to that effect, they said.
“I’ve been to other pools in Gothenburg dressed like that and haven’t had any problems,” Morabet told Swedish news agency TT.
Sweden’s ombudsman against ethnic discrimination, Katri Linna, told the agency she was surprised by the ruling and would likely appeal. She was keen to stress that her office views the case as being quite significant in that it deals with a very concrete everyday situation.
Both women arrived at the court shortly after the verdict was announced. Houda Morabet explained that she took great offence when asked to leave the swimming pool. “Now it is even worse. Most of all I am disappointed by how the justice system has worked,” she said.
Update: See “Muslim mums win discrimination appeal”, The Local, 29 January 2007